Articles Posted in Michigan Traffic Offenses

hot pursuit.jpgIn the second part of our 3 part series on searches, this blog will discuss the rules governing automobile searches. The following needs to be considered when a motorist is pulled over and subsequently searched;

Was the stop a traffic stop or a stop based on suspicion of criminal activity?
Was any search justified?
Was the scope of the search justified?

As alluded to in our prior post, being in an automobile affords individuals much less 4th Amendment protection than being in their home. Police can search a car without a warrant under the ‘automobile exception’. Such searches must be supported by probable cause. According to case law, the general population doesn’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy within their automobile because it is operated upon public roadways and is highly regulated by the government. Thus, automobiles upon public roadways are subject to a much lower expectation of privacy than a private home – other drivers, and police officers, can see directly into the majority of traveling cars. It should also be noted warrantless searches may be conducted pursuant to a valid inventory search after the seizure of an automobile.

Police can stop a motorist either for violation of the motor vehicle code or based on the hunch of criminal activity. Where the officer actually observes a traffic violation they are allowed to make a stop. However, it is often a traffic stop that allows the police to make an arrest for a more serious crime. The police can run a background check during a traffic stop, if that check shows outstanding warrants the police may then arrest that individual and search their vehicle. Moreover, the police do not need a warrant in order to run a license check of a vehicle.

Police may expand the scope from a brief detention to issue a traffic ticket where there is a fair probability of contraband/evidence in the vehicle based on the totality of the circumstances. If a law enforcement official see’s, say for example a bloodied weapon, in plain sight during a traffic stop they may immediately seize that weapon. Another scenario, one that regularly plays out in this office, is where an officer smells alcohol or marijuana during a traffic stop. The smell of marijuana justifies a search of the motor vehicle. Similarly the odor of intoxicants allows the police to conduct roadside sobriety tests.

Where there is no traffic violation, law enforcement may make an investigative stop where they believe criminal activity is taking place. Where there is probable cause that a crime is being committed police may stop an automobile without a warrant (for example where a car is described as leaving the scene of a recently committed crime). Probable cause can be premised on as little as an anonymous tip. Depending what the probable cause is for (meaning a stolen vehicle versus a bag of drugs) will dictate the initial scope of the permissible search. Practically speaking, the police will likely find a way to search the entire car through one of the warrant exceptions. Further, probable cause will typically give pretty wide latitude in terms of what portions of the car can be searched absent a warrant. Police can, for example, open a container if they have reason to believe there is evidence of a crime in that container. However, the search needs to be somewhat logical. That’s to say that police likely do not have the authority to search a purse if they stop an automobile under suspicion that it’s harboring illegal immigrants.

Beneath is some case law regarding automobile searches.

– The police may not search an automobile if the stop was solely for the purpose of seeing the motorist’s license.
– The police may search a car incident to a custodial arrest.
– The police may not search a car where a ticket is issued for a traffic offense provided that’s the reason the car was stopped.
– Police may search a car made at the end of a hot pursuit of a crime scene.
– Police may search a car believed to be stolen.
– The police may allow a dog to sniff an automobile during a legitimate traffic stop.
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This is one of many blogs that our law firm has posted about the Courts where our criminal defense attorneys frequently practice in Macomb County. This is an informational public service blog about the 41-A District Court.

The 41-A District Court in Sterling Heights has jurisdiction from 14 Mile Road to M-59 and from Dequindre to Hayes. This geographical area of approximately 36 square miles contains several major Macomb County thoroughfares such as Hayes, Schoenherr, Van Dyke, Mound and Dequindre. Within Sterling Heights, you will find major shopping centers, the Lakeside Mall, major automotive factories and established residential areas. According to the 2010 US census, the city of Sterling Heights boasts a population of 129,699 and is the second largest suburb in the Metro Detroit area. For these reasons, there are three (3) judges that are needed to administer justice for the City of Sterling Heights. (GOOGLE MAP, CITY OF STERLING HEIGHTS)

The 41-A District Court has jurisdiction to handle non-criminal traffic tickets (civil infractions), criminal matters such as misdemeanors, drunk driving (OWI) and criminal traffic violations. Here is a partial list of offenses which fall under these offense classifications:

Civil Infractions: Speeding, Fail to Obey Traffic Device, Improper Turn, Careless Driving
Criminal Traffic: Drive While Suspended (DWLS), Reckless Driving, Leave Scene of Accident, Fail to Merge for Emergency Response Vehicle
Drunk Driving: Zero Tolerance, Operating While Intoxicated (DUI, OWI), Super Drunk (OWI With a High BAC over .17%)

Misdemeanors: Retail Fraud, Domestic Violence, Disorderly Conduct, MIP, Possession of Marijuana, Possession of Paraphernalia, Malicious Destruction of Property (MDOP), Larceny under $200.00
Criminal Felonies: The district court handles the initial stages of a felony which include issuance of the complaint and warrant, arraignment, bond hearings and preliminary examination. Some arraignments occur after the accused receives a letter and appears voluntarily. The court also utilizes video arraignments for persons that are in custody.

Criminal Warrant Letters: Do not panic if you receive a letter from the Sterling Heights Police directing you to surrender yourself because a criminal warrant has been issued. This would be the time to hire a lawyer if you have not already done so. Our firm has positive experience with scheduling these matters or getting the job done immediately or before a holiday weekend (we don’t like to have warrants hanging over our heads over a long weekend). Ordinarily, we can get the warrant, booking, arraignment and bond addressed without any entanglements.

Legal Objectives: Civil Infractions (Traffic Tickets)
As we have mentioned in our other blogs; if you are found guilty of a civil infraction, the offense will appear on your driving record and you will receive point. The Michigan point system is used to determine high risk drivers which can result in license suspension after a person accumulates 12 or more points. In addition, points are used by insurance companies to rate drivers and raise insurance premiums. Do you think insurance companies find it in their best interest to know when a customer has a new ticket? When handling civil infractions, we attempt to reduce or avoid both points and any offense appearing on a client’s record.

Legal Objectives: Criminal Cases (Misdemeanors)
If you are found guilty of a criminal offense, it will stay on your permanent criminal record. Our goal is to avoid convictions or to obtain dismissals under special provisions of Michigan laws. While nobody can insure or guarantee that a criminal record will completely disappear after the case is concluded, we will aggressively seek the best case scenario by employing delayed sentence dispositions which result in dismissals for offenses like retail fraud, HYTA for youthful offenders (age 17 but under age 21) and statutory first offender deals such as MCL 333.7411 for drug crimes and MCL 769.4a for domestic violence. Since our firm practices extensively in the 41-A District Court (Sterling Heights and the location in Shelby Township), I can say that the Judges are very receptive to outcomes which are consistent with our objectives based upon several years of experience in this jurisdiction.

The Court also has limited jurisdiction over the initial stages of felony cases which include: authorization of criminal charges, issuance of warrant, arraignment (bond) and preliminary examination. However, felony cases are ultimately resolved in the Circuit Court unless reduced to a misdemeanor in the District Court.

The 41-A District Court is located at 40111 Dodge Park, Sterling Heights, Michigan 48313, Phone: 586-446-2500. The Presiding Judges for the 41-A District Court are Judge Michael S. Maceroni, Judge Stephen S. Sierawski and Judge Kimberley A. Wiegand.
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Warren-Police-cars-full.jpgMany of our blogs explore criminal and drunk driving issues within the realm of our law firm’s expertise. Others are about the Courts where we frequently practice law. This blog is about the 37th District Court where we regularly provide legal services to our clients who are charged with traffic offenses, criminal (felony or misdemeanor) and OWI cases arising out of Warren and Centerline.

The 37th District Court has two locations which are located in the cities of Centerline and Warren. (MAP OF WARREN) The jurisdictional boundaries of these Courts covers 36 square (from 8 Mile Road to 14 Mile Road and from Hayes to Dequindre). South of 8 Mile Road is the City of Detroit and West of Dequindre is the County of Oakland. Within the boundaries of the 37th District Court are major Macomb County roads, the I-696 expressway, industrial centers, General Motors Tech Center, Automobile Dealers, over 100 restaurants and retail establishments.

The Warren Police Department (WPD) is located directly behind the 37th District Court. The WPD is one of the most active law enforcement agencies in Macomb County with a major detective bureau, air force (helicopter) motorcycle and traffic patrol squad. The detective bureau has a drug enforcement team as well as other units which engage in various undercover operations including cracking down on prostitution. The Michigan State Police also have a presence in Warren as the law enforcement entity responsible for patrolling I-696 expressway.

41B%20District%20Court[1].jpgMost drunk driving (DUI or OWI) cases in Macomb County are resolved without trial. The vast majority of first offense drunk driving (DUI or OWI) cases can be negotiated to the lower offense, such as operating while impaired, unless there are policy reasons which prohibit the prosecuting attorney from plea bargaining.

Our attorneys will be able to review the police reports and discuss various options with our clients such as trial and deviation requests for charge reductions. When a client is charged with a high blood alcohol drunk driving for obtaining a chemical test result of .17% or more (High BAC or Super Drunk), is involved in an accident or has a prior record involving substance abuse, there are legal maneauvers which we will explore to get the case under control.

Court Process and Possible Sentence Conditions for First Offense Drunk Driving (DUI or OWI)

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The 41-B District Court is located at 22380 Starks Drive, Clinton Township, Michigan 48038, phone: 586-469-9300. It has jurisdiction to handle civil, traffic and criminal cases arising in Clinton Township, Harrison Township and Mount Clemens. Clinton Township has its own police department while Harrison Township and Mount Clemens are policed by the Macomb County Sheriff’s Department. This Court gets a fair share of traffic with M-59 bordering the north end and Gratiot Avenue bordering the east end of its territory. The Court is served by Judge Sebastian Lucido, Judge Linda Davis and Judge Carrie Lynn Fuca.

As a Macomb County law firm, we have practiced extensively in the 41-B District Court and can say that all of the Judges have their own policies and practices. As far as fines and costs for traffic and criminal cases are concerned, the 41-B District Court has a website link which contains a listing of traffic/criminal violations, points associated with traffic/criminal convictions and a partial list of fines and costs. The website does not list fines and costs for many misdemeanors or drunk driving. However, my experience is that the fines and costs for a first offense drunk driving (OWI or DUI) or impaired (OWVI) will be approximately $1,400.00. This is not the total cost for a drunk driving offense in the 41-B District Court. Other approximate costs will include probation oversight expenses of $20.00 per month for 1 to 2 years, substance abuse counseling, driver responsibility fees ($2,00.00 for operating while intoxicated and $1,000 for operating while impaired), driver license reinstatement fee, random alcohol testing fees and sobriety monitoring fees. Under certain circumstances, the Court may consider non-reporting probation for a first offender that does not have a substance abuse disorder and is not likely to commit a crime in the future. An attorney can argue to lessen some of the programs and costs which I have mentioned.

Criminal matters handled in the 41-B District Court, Misdemeanors, OWI, Expungements

The 41-B District Court has jurisdiction (authority) to handle a criminal misdemeanor cases from the beginning to the end.  In the State of Michigan, a misdemeanor is an offense that can carry up to 1 year in jail. The 41-B District Court also handles the early stages of a felony case.  For felony cases, the Court handles the arraignment and preliminary examination. After the preliminary examination, felony cases which arise in Clinton Township, Harrison Township or Mt. Clemens are resolved in the Macomb County Circuit Court for all further proceedings including trial.

The most common misdemeanor cases on the 41-B District Court’s daily docket are:

All of the Judges in the 41-B District Court will consider accepting eligible offenders charged with retail fraud, domestic violence, possession of marijuana for alternative dispositions pursuant to first offender programs.  An offender that obtains a first offender program disposition can earn a dismissal without entry of a guilt. Delayed sentencing and HYTA (youthful offenders) are other excellent criminal defense resources which are utilized in the 41-B District Court to get cases dismissed as well.

In addition to the above criminal matters, the Judges of the 41-B District Court are all willing to grant expungements of criminal convictions to eligible parties.  An expungement is a process which involves setting aside a prior conviction (offense more than 5 years old). Certain offenses, such as drunk driving, are not eligible for expungement. An attorney can evaluate whether someone is eligible for a Michigan expungement.

When it comes to operating while intoxicated (OWI) or drunk driving cases, the 41-B District Court utilizes its own probation department for services that include probation interviews, substance abuse evaluations and monitoring individuals placed on probation.  A first time drunk driving offender can expect a fine and court costs in the $1,400.00 range and may be required to attend a substance abuse program that is recommended by the Court’s probation department. A second time drunk driving case will result in fines and costs closer to $2,000.00 and a substance abuse program is almost certain. The State of Michigan will also impose an indefinite driver’s license revocation to a person convicted of a second  drunk driving conviction within a 7 year period.  However, the 41-B District Court has  a special program known as Sobriety Court. It should be noted that the Sobriety Court program is not available in every jurisdiction and is only available on a limited basis. A person who would otherwise face license revocation, can get back on the road by being accepted into the Sobriety Court program.

Traffic Tickets

Traffic tickets which occur in Clinton Township, Mt. Clemens and Harrison Township are also handled in the 41-District Court. Traffic tickets can be charged as criminal matters (reckless driving, leaving the scene of an accident) or civil infractions (speeding, careless driving, fail to yield). The points associated with traffic tickets go on a person’s driving record which results in increased insurance premiums for several years. For this reason, it usually pays to get a lawyer to fight a traffic ticket. Did you know that an attorney can negotiate to get a traffic ticket lowered to avoid points?  One of the best deals that is available for traffic offenders is to get a reduction to a lower offense such as “impeding traffic” or “double parking” which does not go on a person’s record and does not carry any points!

There is always a lot more at stake when someone is charged with a criminal traffic ticket. Criminal traffic tickets can carry greater points, possible jail and go on one’s criminal record. The following is a partial list of criminal traffic tickets:

  • Driving while license suspended revoked
  • Reckless driving
  • Leaving the scene of an accident
  • Failing to merge for an emergency vehicle

Again, getting a lawyer for a criminal traffic matter can mean avoiding a criminal conviction, saving Michigan driver responsibility fees and avoiding points. The prosecutors that operate at the 41-B District Court are usually willing to negotiate with defense attorneys to resolve criminal traffic matters.  A good outcome for a criminal traffic ticket may consist of negotiating a reduction to a non-criminal offense or civil infraction.

Click here for 41-B District Court Home Page

Click here for map to 41-B District Court

Click here for 41-B District Court list of fines, costs at points

Click here for list of all links to all Macomb County District Courts

Click here for map of Macomb County Michigan
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police-chase[1].jpgIn one of my prior posts, I added a link to the The Michigan Traffic Offense Code. This link contains a complete list of all Michigan traffic offenses along with penalties, points and license sanctions.

Although many traffic offenses in Michigan are civil infractions, there are numerous others that are classified as criminal misdemeanors or felonies. All criminal offenses have the potential for jail and require an appearance before the judge. You should hire a lawyer immediately if you are charged with a criminal traffic offense. Virtually all offenses involving alcohol, driving on a suspended license, leaving the scene of an accident or engaging in a police chase are criminal offenses.

The following is a partial list of Michigan criminal traffic offenses which we have defended in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne County including the district courts located in Royal Oak, Clinton Township, Warren, Sterling Heights, Romeo and Shelby Township:

traffic-police-colour[1].jpgThe Michigan Traffic Offense Code contains a complete list of all Michigan traffic offenses along with penalties, points and license sanctions. This is an excellent reference for you to keep with your favorite links.

Traffic offenses can be classified as civil infractions or criminal. For example, tickets for speeding and disobeying a traffic control device are always civil infractions in Michigan.

Points for Speeding Tickets